24 February, 2011

iPad Killer: Dead On Arrival

Electronics is a bloodthirsty game. As soon as Sony's Data Discman came out... Ok, I'll grant you that it was a very long road from the Data Discman to the Kindle but the point remains, the cycle of life can be vicious. One moment you're the king, the next you're ducking shoes. Currently every predator has a taste for Apples.

I like my iProducts. My iThings work easily, they don't flake out on me, they do what I tell them and they seem to like it. Granted, iStuff isn't for everyone. There are people who seem to honestly dislike all things iLicious. It's cool. My pal lets his Windows hang out, we don't judge. Now everyone's talking about Androids, I'm open minded, I'll check it all out. I was asked to review one of the up and coming iKillers. (I said "Bring It!" because I talk all 80's like that.) I have to admit, the first impression really surprised me.

It was sleek. It had some serious tactile appeal. It looked like it was built for love and had storage for days. Even though Microsoft and I had broken up more than a decade ago, I was ready to consider reuniting. Cue up the Peaches & Herb, dim the lights,  and run the startup menu. We named it Godzilla, because it was going to stomp all over my iLove. A bajillion and a half years later I remembered that Windows has to get in the mood. You might be ready to rumble, but Windows, it needs to feel respected. A little wooing is required. (I wasn't going anywhere.) Finally, it was done playing the tease. A flash of blue screen, a hint of a start up menu and.....

A blaring series of beeps? What? Keep the sirens for Prodigy songs! My iPad Killer was turning out to be all talk and no action. The screen went black, the beeps kept coming and the power button quit working. I carried it into the garage and shut the door. It could come out when it was fit for company. So here I was, all ready to cheat on Apple and only a dead motherboard to show for my efforts. I called The Man about a replacement. Fed-Ex, walk in, what are my options? My options were to hurry up and wait. Talk about a buzz kill. Even though the $600 brick was only an hour old, it had to go to a repair center on a repair ticket for investigation of the problem. After all data was scrubbed and the problem determined, it would be sent back to me. In a couple weeks.

Um, what? A couple of weeks? Do they know how long that is in dog years? I tried pulling rank. I was soooo casual - "You know this is for a product review, right? I'm supposed to go several places and give people my opinion on whether or not they should buy your product? As in purchase? With money?" Turns out they could shorten the turn around time. Ten days. I don't know about you, but if I shelled out $600 for something that died in an hour, I wouldn't wait ten minutes. So I wrote my review. And I named the names I'm not naming here because I think part of the review process is seeing how the customer service would work for standard customers.

Flirting with the iPad Killer reminded me of what I already knew. People are willing to put up with an awful lot in a relationship. It's why I've stayed with Apple so long. My iBabies don't throw tantrums, and they don't need time outs. If someone's going to kill my iPad, they're going to have to move a lot faster.

20 February, 2011

Review: Deadly Vows by Brenda Joyce

Ah, Francesca. You are so incredibly young and I have missed you so very much. What else would you do on your wedding day but run off to investigate a mysterious letter that threatens to expose you to ruin? If you stopped long enough to think it through, you wouldn't be the Francesca Cahill (Hart? Bragg?) we've come to love. So there you are, rushing off on your wedding day, planning to meet everyone at the church for a last minute slide into your dress and a picture perfect walk down the aisle. If we've learned one thing about you Francesca, it's that your plans always work out the way you expect them to. Can you leave a man at the altar and still marry him? Hart thinks not.

Deadly Vows is an absolute gift to fans of the Cahill series. There is all the nail biting "Francesca what are you thinking" action of the other eight books. Francesca continues to have more perils than the famous Pauline and Rick is still trailing behind her with his woeful face on. Calder seems to have had enough of it all, which makes sense. Calder's had about enough of everything. Thankfully, by the end of Deadly Vows the will she or won't she, does she or doesn't she is resolved (for now?) as well as the questions of Bertolla's pregnancy. If The Deadly Series ends here, it won't be the cliffhanger it once was. That said, there is no reason for Francesca to stop sleuthing. The series could as easily begin here as end, a reader could start with Deadly Vows and move forward, much as you can with one of Nora Roberts In Death books.

The Deadly Series is long on soaptastic action, which there is no shortage of here. Everyone is embroiled in some secret, heartrending angst, except Francesca's parents. (I have to tell you, I expect one of them to come out with some drama soon.) Deadly Vows finds them doing little but fretting as Francesca tries to find a stolen painting, eludes a madman (or three), children are kidnapped, and plots are revealed. Even Francesca's brother chooses between the Irish seamstress he might love and the pregnant mistress he certainly doesn't. Being late to leave the city for the summer house hardly compares. (Since Deadly Vows closes as most of the characters head for the beach, I can't wait to join them there in the next installment.)

My complaint, and I must always have one, is the relationship between Calder and Rick. As the series goes on it makes even less sense to me. Calder is the wealthy half brother to the crusading older Rick Bragg. Calder has mommy issues like woah. Seems Mommy always liked Rick best (even though she was really telling young Rick to look after his baby brother what with her dying and all) and his half brother's father came to rescue them while Calder's father wanted no contact at all. Rick sees Calder as a self important selfish tool incapable of true emotion, which I can understand. Calder has money, he has tantrums, and he has issues with Rick while Rick has been charged with caring for the cranky little snot. Calder, on the other hand, sees Rick as a self important windbag using his good works as a cover for his lack of character. I get both of those views. Where it starts to fall apart for me is the brothers are both close to Rick's father and Rick's other half brothers. Calder feels unloved and unloveable, which he seems to blame on Rick. Wouldn't he feel more of a bond with Rick, who shared their mother's struggle and death, than his protected and pampered youngest brothers? There has to be more to the Calder / Rick drama than Calder being in a snit over Rick's dad wanting him. This needs a bit more oomph or a working out of issues to satisfy.

I may sound like I'm Team Rick. You'd be wrong, I can easily list what my problems are with both of them but it will have to wait. I can't detail my frustration with Francesca, her men, and their serious problems with adult life, until the next one. The Deadly Series joys lie in being spoiler free as it all unravels and then ranting about how ridiculous this or that person was during the book. It's the very definition of guilty pleasure, but no guilt is required. I'm ready to give all three characters a serious time out, but I'll be back for the next book as soon as I can get my hands on it!

15 February, 2011

Review: One Night Is Never Enough by Anne Mallory

We all know I adore Anne Mallory. I think her name should be on the same list as Lorraine Heath and Julia Quinn, maybe just a half step (or not) below Courtney Milan and Sherry Thomas. (It's so hard to line authors up by height when they won't stop moving.) It's established that I am quite fond of Seven Secrets Of Seduction, the first book in this loosely connected series. So did I love One Night Is Never Enough?


(Yes, but? Yes, and?) It surprised me. One Night blends one of my favorite (young self made street rat) and least favorite (lost in a card game) romance standards together. Roman Merrick is exceptional as the street rat in question. A card carrying member of the have-to-laugh-or-you'd-cry-club, Roman is charming and believable as a man who lives by his instincts. Charlotte isn't the heroine I expected to emerge from Seven Secrets of Seduction. Instead of the plucky best friend, Anne Mallory has chosen to work with the discarded fiancee, the ice princess being sold to the highest title. Unlike most ice princesses, Charlotte revels in her control. Her desire to dominate society shows that what Charlotte hungers for most in life is power. Lots and lots of power. Roman has power in abundance, but it's not the sort that's useful to her. Rather like dating a guy with a coal mine when you're trying to pull a stagecoach along. (I predict Charlotte will ultimately get the social power she desires as predicting Roman's brother is the Lost Duke Of Something is like going out on a limb that's already fallen and been bolted to the ground.)

So on to the ? mark. Anne Mallory's books are always slightly different. In this case, she's looking for a little added realism. If you're a street rat who has scrabbled his way to the top, you had to get your paws pretty dirty on the way up. Other rats are always going to be grabbing your tail, trying to climb the pile themselves. Men who run gambling clubs are not renowned for their honesty. But in Romanceland, once you make it big you make it clean. The gangster on the top of the mountain is molded into the respected businessman on the top of the mountain, above the teeming masses he once dwelled among. No drive-by shootings here. (Would that be canter-by? Gallop-by? How would that work?) Not so with Roman Merrick. The book opens with him attacking an enemy, it closes with him reminding her that his is a life of criminals and crime, his is a life that will never offer safety for himself or those with him. He is a Bad Boy With A Heart Of Gold not a Man With A Past.

Charlotte is ok with it. After some reflection, I think I am too. After all of our heros being told it isn't their fault, that the past is just that, the evil is gone, the trouble transported, the jails broken into, the cops paid off, we were due for a change. King Rat is always going to snap the neck of anyone who tries to take his cheese, and the rest of the rats are always going to make their play. Thug Life, Baby.

*I have to throw a quick cover note out here - blue and green, eye catching. That fist he's making for no reason in her dress? Disturbing. She's all relaxed lazy Sunday, and he's all Olestra side effects. Look at his hairline, those are some cold sweats he's got going on.

14 February, 2011

Review: Scandal of the Year by Laura Guhrke

I didn't hate it as much as the last one?

Scandal of the Year's main problems (outside of the book itself) are reader expectation and Agency pricing. I expect to love a Laura Lee Guhrke book. I resent not loving one far more when I've paid the full Agency freight. In order to detail what I didn't like about Scandal of the Year I'm going to have to spoil some major plot points. So let me say here that it is better than Wedding of the Season and does not depend on knowledge of that book for it's plot. There is every chance you will love it. Do not read on if you think you might wish to read this book free from plot details. Make your buying choice without me. It's better for both of us.

(Well that's out of the way. You've only yourself to blame from here.) So in the prior book, Aidan was an uptight dude who totally had contempt for the married Julia's free for all ways. She was a madcap blithe spirit who rubbed his fur backwards, the in-law he least looked forward to acquiring from his shiny new fiancee Beatrix. Now Aidan has lost a second fiancee (off camera) because he was caught naked with Julia by her estranged husband and was named in the divorce. (Ok, I'm cool with that.) The problem is, Aidan didn't really hate Julia he just told himself he did because he met her umpteen years ago when she was 17 and .... I know, right? Already the first book is starting to fall apart. Why didn't they mention this before? Why would he marry the cousin of the women he was obsessed with? What could be so awesome about that meeting... it doesn't improve upon inspection. Not only did he meet Julia for like, five minutes, but she had also recently found out her fiance was dead (barely a hitch in her stride) and was being forced to marry someone else. There are three different books being shoehorned into one to force a Sleeping Beauty theme here. You've got star crossed childhood sweethearts (but not really), lost love regained (but not really) and the uptight dude meets the free spirit that unlocks him all going on at once.

Now how much would you pay?

But wait! If you call right now you also get emotional shut down from an abusive relationship. Julia is the life of the party with the sad heart of a clown. She smiles to keep from crying. I have a problem with that part of her backstory as well. It's not that her husband is a crazy violent rapist, it's that for a time he finds a mistress who likes that sort of thing and he leaves her alone. So which is it? He was romantically obsessed with her and only enjoys raping women, or he's a BDSM freak who can't play vanilla? It's not the same thing. A true BDSM freak isn't into rape, and a true rapist isn't into willing mistresses. I'm all about the vanilla and I know that. So Julia's powerful story of overcoming socially condoned rape is tainted by the question of perceptions. Was he chalk? Was he cheese? If he was chalk, why did he let her go at all? If he was cheese, why didn't he let her go sooner? It doesn't fit.

But back to Julia. I liked that she dealt with her own problems, I liked that she knew she was emotionally damaged, I liked that she confronted her all consuming (and so trendy) debt without apology or a desire for self exploration. I liked that she was imperfect. (I think the subtext of this series might be imperfect characters.) I liked that she did bad things for her own reasons, but owned it. I liked the way she hid from reality when she could. I liked her not quite as much as I did in Beatrix's book, but that's probably because I wasn't grateful to her for giving me someone other than Beatrix to read about. If Aidan really had not liked her, if his disapproval was real but slowly eroded through understanding her, I would have loved them together. Aidan hating her to resist loving her just annoyed me. It makes no sense to the character of Aidan and it makes no sense to their prior interactions. There's no reason for it but hormones.

And yet. Aspects of Scandal of the Year are fantastic and original. Julia's sense of independence, Aidan's quiet responsibility, tennis games instead of boxing matches, so many details creating a fresher whole. It's that much more frustrating when the details need scotch tape to hold them in place.

11 February, 2011

Confessional: My Life As A Stripper

It's his day job. At night he's a rock star.
I read an interesting article in BBC History Magazine about the emergence of shadow markets in face of unneeded regulation (I feel like I should totally say I'm kidding, but hang in here for a second) and the perception that said crimes were victimless, because of the unneeded regulation or taxation level. Dude was preaching to the DRM choir. Except not. Because, you know, BBC History.

I am not on the piracy bandwagon. (Pirates bad, paying for things good, e-book pricing different conversation.) I've never been an advocate of DRM and moving into e-reading has made my beliefs gospel. I read on my Sony 505, on Ozy (My iPad, he likes to be called Ozy right now It's a thing we've got going.) an iPod touch of indeterminate ownership, and occasionally a Kindle. (But not often. We don't really speak.) I listen to music in my house, in my car, on my 3 iPods and Ozy.  I watch movies on ... you follow. Media Anonymous keeps tucking brochures in my door and I ignore them. My end of year cash flow statements make stern judgy faces about the entertainment column and I scoff at it. I'm a dirty girl, I'm not going to change now.

That's the thing about me, when I want my fix, I want it. I don't want to wait for an appropriate time, an approved place, the good underwear. I just want to get it on with my media of choice. I'll pay for it, I'll treat it like a lady, but it better show me a good time or I'm on to the next thing. That said, if I bought the dvd/cd/epub/mobi I'm not interested in buying every format. I will rip the cd, recode the dvd, strip the epub, I like my files ready to go where I want to take them. (I'm not into sharing, it's just about me and my stash.) So I get pretty annoyed when the DRM justifications start up. To me, it's a hurdle that encourages piracy. To them, it's protection against piracy.

Tomato. You know the rest.

Since Ozy came into my life I've been reading almost exclusively on it at home. When I go out in the world, it's the Sony or the iPod and I want to take the book (or film, or song) with me. I'm not going to buy it three ways. I experimented with several reading apps that preserved the DRM but they weren't seamless. I don't want to remember my passwords, check my settings, or otherwise screw around with making sure other people won't rip off people charging me $8 for a $5 mass market. (Oops, almost got into pricing. My bad.) I know margins are tight, I know the music industry has problems, I know theater ticket sales are tanking. I didn't do any of that. I buy my stuff, and a lot of the time I buy it retail. So while I don't support a shadow economy or black market (pirates!) I do consider taking it all off to be a legit endeavor for the consumer (moi) who wants to get her media on. (I'll throw out some numbers. I spent upwards of five hundred bucks on various media items last month. When I start to go blind, I'll stop. I promise. The budget is just grateful it isn't concert season. Alright, I may or may not have just spent $600 on a new DVR setup so I don't miss General Hospital. There's no shame in it! Actors gotta work!)

One of my favorite sayings, because I'm pretentious like that, is that water seeks it's level. The easiest path is the path it follows. The easiest thing to do in this new world of media is to steal things. The hardest thing to do is abide by all the DRM restrictions and keep someone else's ducks in a line on your dime. I'll be hanging out here in the middle of the road, where I will undoubtedly get mown over by a Mack truck. Y'all do what y'all do, as long as you remember that everyone has to put food on the table.

09 February, 2011

Review: Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory

Anne Mallory is one of those authors that seems to sit just under the conversation. Mention her name, and you're sure to find some fans, but ask readers to throw out names of romance authors they love and it's unlikely anyone in the conversation will mention her. (I used to discuss this phenomenon with another author. She had a long and respected career in a number of time periods and tones, she wrote for various publishers, and yet she never had the tip of the tongue status of authors with a fifth of the career. It's interesting and inexplicable what makes a author stay in everyone's mind.)

Being a huge fan of Anne Mallory's, and with her upcoming book being the second in this loosely connected series, I thought I'd remind everyone of Seven Secrets of Seduction. Miranda and the Viscount. The shopgirl and the aristocrat. There are some standard cliches of this sort of pairing and Mallory deftly avoids them through careful characterization. Miranda is not poor, she is what we might think of as middle class. She spends her break gossiping with her friends, she spends her evenings on her own pursuits or at parties, she is a fairly normal girl recovering from a serious loss. Society annoys her more than it impresses her. (Reading this I wondered if Anne Mallory ever worked high end retail. She certainly nails elements of a career in service.)

So, Miranda is not terribly interested in someone coming to save her from penury. This brings us to the Viscount, or Max. I really hate to say a thing about him. The way Mallory unfold his character over the course of the book is lovely, the reader learns about him alongside Miranda. I hate that I've even told you he's a Viscount. While the focus is on Miranda, how she crosses his path, how she comes to first desire and then adore him, the star of the book is the Viscount. The player who plays himself, the lost and lonely boy who wants to have it all ways. Although sharing few elements, Seven Secrets of Seduction reminded me of Edith Layton's The Fire Flower in it's emotional maturity. At one point Miranda tells Max that is is because she loves him that she must hurt him. There is a fundamental flaw in their relationship that will eventually poison it. Better to hurt now than hurt forever. Who hasn't faced that moment in their life? When love really isn't enough, when the grand gesture wouldn't change anything, when it's not your fault or my fault, it just is? It's a lovely book. If you didn't pick it up last year, it's worth reconsidering.

01 February, 2011

Review: First Grave On The Right by Darynda Jones

Here's the problem. I want to discuss this book with you in such rant-tastical depth that I would absolutely spoil it for everyone. Plus, it's in hardcover, which means I have to wait a ridiculous amount of time to be certain everyone has had a chance to read it. (You're going to read it, trust me on that.)

First Grave on the Right has it's issues. There's some serious info dumping going on as Darynda Jones sets up her world. It doesn't read as pages of boring exposition, it reads like you walked into the middle of a series. Eve Dallas can get away with saying "Yes, it's just like in the Icove case" because the reader has either read that book or can google it quickly enough. When Charley says "Hoo boy, and let's not forget that day!" the reader is missing the context. It works well enough since it's pretty smoothly introduced, but it could certainly be streamlined.

Charley is the Grim Reaper. Not a Grim Reaper, but THE Grim Reaper. This is a step up from the conventional I-See-Dead-People, but it brings it's own problems. I'm going to assume there are other Reapers in the world, because otherwise the math just blows the whole book out. I mean, the dead have to pass through Charlie, she's the actual light, right? Worldwide, about 62 million people die yearly. Since there are only 1,440 minutes in a day... ok that is as much math as I am willing to do. It just doesn't work, right? Right. So no matter what Charley says, there's got to be other options for dead folks. Charley impressed me in her ability to take more physical abuse than even my girl Sookie Stackhouse. Girl keeps ticking. She's got a cop uncle, an ex cop father, a wicked stepmother, a non beloved sister, a bunch of men interested in her, a dead assistant, a live assistant and at least three jobs. This girl does not have time to sit about. (She also has awesome shoes, but that's my cover envy talking.)

Charley likes sex, but this is not a LKH read, it's pretty mild as far as the actual action goes while still having a heat meter. Unlike most books, I read all the sex scenes. They furthered the plot. I know, I couldn't believe it either. But they did. Charley's been having some pretty vivid dreams at night which may or may not be connected to her paranormal leanings. She's also got an entity that's been shadowing her since the day she was born and a fellow PI looking her way. I don't know if the love triangle (Quadrangle? Hexagonal?) is going to work or is even intended, because it's pretty clear pretty quickly who rings Charley's chimes. Too bad he's in jail. (I know! Daddy issues and inmates and tigers and lions and monkeys and bears!!) I actually have some real problems with Charley's boyfriend. Which is the spoiler-ish bits. I think some aspects (ok, most aspects) of Charley's relationship are going to cause heated debate about their appropriateness and her mental health. I mean, just his pick-up lines alone could light up the average message board. But the world Jones is building captivated me immediately. It's rooted in Christian Myth (if you prefer, Christian Fact - see what I mean? Debate!) but is in no way a "Christian Romance." I respect that. Paranormals that attempt to be areligious (irreligious? Double debate!)  annoy me. You can't have your demons and eat them too. (Wait...)

First Grave ties up 90% of the plot it introduces while only answering 10% of the world building questions, but not in an annoying way. In a sense, coming in to the middle of the story works, after all that is what happens to Charley every time she encounters a dead person.  I rather expect Charlie's BFF to drop dead any moment and leave Charlie as a custodial parent. This is what I mean about a dense world - she's not just Charlie's BFF, she's also her assistant, a single mother, a cancer survivor and in the middle of a potential recurrence. None of which is relevant to this particular story, but would obviously come into play later. Charlie's dad isn't just an ex-cop, he's an ex-cop who runs a bar, has a cop brother, is a widower (remarried) with another daughter and.... it's a very Southern way of meeting characters. "This here is Velma, she's Pearl's sister. You know how Pearl and Velma married brothers? Those brothers happened to be the siblings of my grandmother and it's a funny thing but they're also related these other two ways..." (True sentence. It was used to start off an approximately three hour story from one of my cousins. I'm not sure he ever finished.)

Read it so we can fight about it. It's full of Team Character opportunities and What Is She Thinking vs OMG SO HOT debatery.